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Why is Swansea leading a Beaujolais Day revival?

Time:2016-11-18 02:27wine - Red wine life health Click:

Beaujolais Swansea leading revival

A group of women celebrate Beaujolais Day

Image copyright South Wales Evening Post

For most of the UK, Beaujolais Day is an 1980s fashion which was ditched as unceremoniously as shell suits - but not in Swansea.

On the third Thursday in November the occasion is celebrated across France with fireworks, music and other festivities.

It marks the arrival of the first bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau wine which are released at 00:01 under French law.

But Swansea, which was popping bottles of Beaujolais long before yuppies were marking the day in their Filofaxes, continues to cling on to the tradition.

Beaujolais is a a sub-region of Burgundy, north of Lyon, and started promoting its freshly pressed wines as "Nouveau" in 1951.

A post-war British public slowly emerging from austerity soon began to develop a taste for the infant red wine; usually served chilled, just six weeks after harvest.

The Beaujolais run reached fever-pitch across the UK in the 1980s, when the competition to land the first bottle back in London saw the winning team employ a Harrier Jump Jet to deliver it.

'London craze'

But why has Swansea been at the vanguard of the Beaujolais Day craze?

Cultural historian Prof Peter Stead believes he might have an idea.

"Swansea provided the perfect storm for Beaujolais Day hysteria; as they say in Miss Marple, we had means, motive and opportunity.

"First of all, what is now known as the No Sign Bar on Wind Street was then owned by former Wales rugby captain Clem Thomas, who had a house in Burgundy, so he could get the Beaujolais into Swansea quickly and cheaply, and make money by bringing the new London craze to Wales.

"At the same time there were other entrepreneurs in the embryonic stages of the 'Gastro Pub' market - like a fellow called Tecero who opened The Brasserie - who had to be seen to be outdoing Clem, by putting on even more extravagant Beaujolais Day events.

"But most of all it fitted the Swansea zeitgeist of the late 1960s. This was a community trying to find its feet as a city - looking to gentrify and intellectualise itself - and Beaujolais Day seemed to capture perfectly the spirit best summed-up in Kingsley Amis's 'Old Devils'."

Image copyright South Wales Evening Post Image caption Last year, the Beaujolais celebrations ranked as the third busiest night in Swansea

But by the mid 1990s Beaujolais Day had gone the way of Mr Blobby.

The decline of Shoulder Pad culture had put pay to the idea that greed and excess were good.

At the same time, the 'Beaujolais Nouveau' brand had been sullied by over-saturation with poor-quality weak and acidic products.

So why did the tradition live-on in Swansea? Again, Prof Stead thinks he might have the answer.

"We're a city who love to revel in being not-quite-on-trend.

"There's plenty of Swansea City fans who still in their heart-of-hearts hanker for the days when the club was a bit of a joke, and so clinging on to Beaujolais Day was a sort of two fingers to fashion; we'll carry on doing things our way.

"Plus, with the history of Clem and Mr Tecero, there was a sense that Beaujolais Day was something as uniquely Swansea as it was French."

Whilst Beaujolais Day has made something of a mild resurgence across the UK in recent years, there may still be nowhere outside of London who go in for it quite like the people of Swansea.

It is estimated that last year the event contributed around £5M to the local economy; ranking as the third busiest night in the city, only behind "Black Friday" and New Year's Eve.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Japan is the world's biggest export market for Nouveau and bought almost 60 million litres last year

Russell Greenslade, Chair of Swansea Business Improvement District said: "Beaujolais Day in Swansea continues to grow in popularity over the years, with many other places now following suit.

"A variety of the business sectors benefit from the day, such as retail, hairdressers, beauticians, and of course hospitality; with many booked up well in advance for the occasion."

But as with all major public celebrations, Beaujolais Day in Swansea comes with its own set of problems.

Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board are bracing themselves for a busy night across the region's emergency departments, while South Wales Police say they will be closely monitoring the festivities so that everyone can enjoy themselves.

Though before Swansea starts polishing its Beaujolais crown too vigorously, perhaps it ought to stop and take a look east - a little further afield than traditional rivals Cardiff - Japan is the world's biggest export market for Nouveau, buying almost 60 million litres last year alone.

'Stay safe'

But for the first time in the 65 year tradition of Beaujolais Day, Thursday's celebration coincides with a Super Moon.

Could revellers on the streets of Swansea end up "howling" in more ways than one?

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